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Student Finance

Student Finance in Scotland 2021

Trying to wrap your head around Scottish Student Finance? We've done the hard work for you and put together everything you need to know – minus the jargon.

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With 19 universities and Higher Education providers, including some of the most prestigious in the UK, Scotland is a great choice for students looking for a top-quality degree.

And, depending on where you're from, it could be a much cheaper option too. You might have heard that tuition fees are free in Scotland – which is true, but only for some students.

To cut through the confusion, we've produced this handy guide to how much an undergraduate degree will cost you in Scotland, no matter where you're from.

This guide is for full-time students only – if you're not a full-time student, head over to our guide to part-time Student Finance.

Student Finance Scotland: A brief overview

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As a brief overview, these are the key things to know about Student Finance in Scotland:

  1. Unlike the rest of the UK, most Scottish degrees take four years to complete
  2. The body for Student Finance in Scotland is the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS)
  3. Most first-time students can get funding to pay for university tuition fees – you won’t need to pay upfront
  4. Scottish students and students from the EU (who started in or before the 2020/21 academic year) can study for free in Scotland – the government picks up the tab for tuition fees
  5. However, students from the rest of the UK will be charged up to £9,250 for tuition fees in Scotland
  6. There's cash to cover living costs for Scottish students in the form of the Student Loan and bursaries
  7. If you receive the Student Loan, you only start repaying it once you've left your course and are earning enough (and if your income drops, so will your repayments)
  8. Any debt you haven't cleared after 30 years is written off.
  9. Student Finance may not go as far as you think it will. Get a clear idea of the costs, and how you'll cover them – this guide will help!
Note that the information in this guide applies to undergraduate degrees. We've also got a guide to Student Finance for postgraduate master's degrees in Scotland.

Is university free in Scotland?

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University is free in Scotland, but only if you're a student from Scotland or the Republic or Ireland (or from the EU, and started in the 2020/21 academic year or earlier). If that's you, you won't pay a penny towards tuition fees at Scottish universities – the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS) will cover the £1,820 a year for you.

This also means that if you're one of these students, but you aren't eligible for the fees waiver for whatever reason, you'll still get a much cheaper deal than you would if you studied elsewhere in the UK.

For students from the Rest of the UK (RUK) – England, Northern Ireland and Wales – and international students (including those from the EU from 2021/22 onwards), it's less of a bargain. Full-time RUK fees cost up to £9,250 a year, while fees for international students can be anything from £13,000 – £50,000!

Don't forget that tuition fees are only one part of the full university package. You'll also need to pay for monthly rent, household bills, public transport, food shops, plus extra course costs like lab kits, field trips and work experience.

Don't panic though – stick all your estimated costs into a budget planner to avoid stressful surprises later on. We've got your back with our budgeting guide.

How long do you have to live in Scotland to get free tuition fees?

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Firstly, to be eligible to have your tuition fees in Scotland covered by SAAS, you need to have lived somewhere in the United Kingdom for at least three years before the course starts. In addition to this, SAAS guidelines state:

You must also be ordinarily resident in Scotland on the relevant date.

Despite what you might hope, this doesn't mean you can move to Scotland the day before your course starts and still be eligible for the free fees. It basically just means you need to live in Scotland permanently, year after year, full-time and only leaving for holidays – there's just no set time frame on it.

If you plan on moving there just for your education, this will most likely not qualify you for the free tuition fees.

Four-year degrees in Scotland

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A standard honours degree in Scotland lasts four years, as opposed to three years like in the rest of the UK. What's more, many Scottish students go to university aged 17, unlike students in England and elsewhere who generally go at 18.

Essentially, this doesn't mean anything other than an extra year of fees to take into consideration – you'll still graduate with the same qualification as you would elsewhere.

However, if you're studying a subject in humanities or social sciences, and you're attending one of the ancient universities (University of St Andrews, University of Edinburgh, etc.), you might leave with a Master of Arts. This is opposed to the Bachelor of Arts you would get at most universities in the rest of the UK.

Even though you're getting a master's qualification, this isn't the same as a postgraduate MA – it's still an undergraduate degree.

A few institutions offer accelerated courses, which get you in and out in three years (say goodbye to vacations!). Alternatively, a 'general' (non-honours) degree takes just three years but isn't as specialised.

Suss it out before you opt for a cheaper or faster route – make sure you're getting the degree you want.

Student Finance in Scotland

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Each country in the UK is different when it comes to Student Finance, so whether you're studying in England, Northern Ireland, Wales or Scotland, you'll be eligible for different kinds of funding.

As stated earlier, students from the rest of the UK will be charged up to £9,250 a year for studying in Scotland, but this will be covered by a loan that you pay back after graduation – find out more in our Big Fat Guide to Student Finance.

All the information below is specifically for Scottish or Irish students applying for Student Finance through SAAS. Students from the rest of the UK must apply for Student Finance through their relevant body.

Eligibility for Student Finance

To qualify for all three of the free tuition fees, Student Loan and bursaries, you must meet the SAAS eligibility criteria:

  • You have lived in the UK for at least three years prior to the start of your course
  • You are 'ordinarily' resident in Scotland on a specified date (typically 1st August for courses starting in the autumn term).

This means you must live in Scotland full-time and out of choice, NOT just for your education.

There are some exceptions to the rule, however, such as Irish students, those seeking asylum in the UK, UK nationals who have returned from the EU, those with refugee status, dependent children of Turkish workers and more – these groups may still be eligible for some funding. Check the SAAS website for more information about this.

Other than that, the main part of the eligibility criteria is that this must be your first degree. If you tick the boxes, then you're good to go.

Tuition fees

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Most students who live in Scotland full-time won't have to pay anything for tuition fees because the Scottish government stumps up the cash for you.

Full-time and part-time Scottish students studying at a university in Scotland can get off Scot-free (sorry) thanks to a fee waiver. The money doesn't have to be repaid, but check with SAAS for all the details.

Irish students studying in Scotland access to free tuition fees, but won't be eligible for living cost support from SAAS.

As for EU students, you must have started your course in 2020/21 or earlier, and have been a resident of the UK for at least three years prior to the start university, in order to be given financial support for living costs.

Do Scottish students have to pay for university in England?

The sting in the tail: if you're a Scottish student and you want to study elsewhere in the UK, you'll forfeit your free tuition fees cash and can be charged up to £9,250 a year for your course.

That doesn't mean you have to put down any money straight away, though. If you're eligible for Student Finance you can get a Tuition Fee Loan, which you don't have to pay back until you've left your course and are earning enough.

International students could be eligible for a scholarship that will make studying in the UK, including Scotland, substantially cheaper. Our guide to funding for international students lists some examples.

Student Loans

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Your main funding source for your university living costs will come from the SAAS Student Loan.

It is partly based on your household income, although if you don't want to provide any income details you'll still receive the minimum £4,750 a year.

It's paid in monthly instalments directly to your bank account and, just like any other loan, you will have to pay it back eventually. But we'll get to that later.


Bursaries are free money, meaning you don't have to pay them back. These are dependent on your household income, and you'll receive them in addition to the above Student Loan.

How much you're entitled to depends on whether you're classed as a Young Student (meaning you're under the age of 25 and you're not married, a parent or financially independent), or an Independent Student.

Independent Students will receive £1,000 a year if their household income is under £20,999, whereas Young Students receive a sliding scale of money depending on their household income (see table below).

The cash is paid directly into your bank account (make sure you've got one!) in instalments. Making it last is down to you, so don't blow it on highlighter pens and bargain booze in freshers' week...

Taking both the Student Loan and bursaries into consideration, here's how much Young Students can receive depending on their household income:

Student Loan and bursary for Scottish students 2020/21

Household incomeLoanBursaryTotal
£0 to £20,999£5,750£2,000£7,750
£21,000 to £23,999£5,750£1,125£6,875
£24,000 to £33,999£5,750£500£6,250

Part-time students aren't eligible for funding to cover living costs (but check out the extra funding sources below).

If you're a student from elsewhere in the UK, Maintenance Loans and any grants going will be dished out by your own Student Finance body – what's on offer will vary from what we've listed in this guide.

Other funding sources for Scottish students

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UK students have access to extra support for specific circumstances, including:

  • Lone Parents' Grant for help with childcare costs
  • Adult Dependants' Grant if you're financially responsible for another adult you live with
  • Disabled Students' Allowances (DSA) for things like specialist equipment, a non-medical helper and travel expenses if you're unable to use public transport
  • Travel expenses for health profession courses
  • Vacation grant for care leavers
  • Funding for Nursing and Midwifery courses in Scotland. This includes a non-repayable bursary of up to £10,000, £60 in initial expenses, plus maintenance support for special circumstances.

Start with your country's Student Finance portal to find out what exactly is on offer where you are (and how to get your mitts on it) – but remember there's plenty in the pot if you know where to look such as:

  • University bursaries and scholarships, plus hardship funds for students who might struggle to afford uni (or to get by once they're there)
  • Business sponsorships, government incentives and charity funds
  • Course-specific support, including teacher training and social work.

It's also worth talking to your university – they'll have dedicated advisers who can point you in the direction of travel grants, discounts, scholarships and emotional support.

Grants, scholarships, bursaries and allowances usually don't have to be paid back. Loans do!

When to apply for Student Finance through SAAS

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Our best advice here is to apply for Student Finance as early as possible.

You don't need to wait until you receive your exam results to apply for Student Finance. Simply apply using the details of your first choice university and course.

If things turn out differently after results day, you can easily contact SAAS to change things over to a different university.

It's recommended that you apply for Student Finance by the end of June before starting uni – this way, SAAS can guarantee you will receive your funding before term starts. Apply any time after this and you could get your Student Loan late, leaving you short during freshers' week.

However, for the academic year 2020/21, the actual deadline isn't until the 31st March 2021 – if you don't apply by this point you'll receive a bill for your tuition fees that you'll have to pay yourself.

Remember that you need to reapply for funding every year of your course – it doesn't automatically roll over.

Repaying your Scottish Student Loan

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First up, if you're a student from the UK (but outside of Scotland or Northern Ireland), your Student Loan repayments will be very different to what's outlined below – get all the facts here.

If you're a Scottish student, your tuition fees will likely be covered by SAAS, so the only loan you need to worry about repaying is the Student Loan that's used to cover the bulk of your living costs.

Just like with all Student Loans, you don't need to worry about repaying any money until you've finished your course.

But you should know that the loan starts brewing interest from day one up until you clear the final payment (or the debt is wiped), so you'll end up owing more than you actually borrowed.

Since the Student Loan in Scotland is part of the Plan 1 system, the interest rate is set at 1.1% per year. It's very low, all things considered – and much lower than private student loans as the interest is subsidised by the government.

You don't start repaying your loan until the April after your graduation and when you're earning more than £19,390 a year (£1,616/month) in taxable income. However, the Scottish government has committed to raising the repayment threshold to £25,000 by April 2021.

Once you hit the threshold, repayments are automatically docked from your wages before you get paid (unless you're self-employed, in which case it's calculated when you complete your tax return each year). Either way, you pay 9% on anything you earn above the threshold (not your whole salary!).

Crucially, if your income falls below the threshold at any time, repayments stop until you're back over the line.

Monthly repayments of your Student Loan

Annual salaryPlan 1 monthly repayments (6th April 2020 – 5th April 2021)

Above are some examples of what your monthly repayments could look like.

You don't have to stick to these repayments if you don't want to, as this is just the minimum amount you have to repay. You can pay more, or pay it off in full at any time – but whether it's worth it is questionable!

Since the debt will be wiped after 30 years (it was 35 years until the law changed in December 2018), it might not be worth paying it off before then, especially if you don't think you'll earn enough to pay the full sum on the minimum repayments.

Use our Student Loan Repayment Calculator to see whether you're likely to pay yours off.


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